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Bad Childhood = Tougher Pregnancy Later in Life?
Girls who suffer hardships in childhood may be at risk for future problems with pregnancy.
Hardships faced in childhood are often associated with health behaviors later in life, which can include smoking, depression, mood and sleep disturbances, and substance use and abuse. According to the authors, "Mounting research evidence suggests a relation between psychosocial stressors during pregnancy and poor pregnancy outcomes such as low-birth weight, intrauterine growth retardation and pre-term birth."
Emily W. Harville, Ph.D., of Tulane University in New Orleans, and colleagues studied 4,865 women who had experienced at least one hardship during childhood and had at least one live birth by age 41. "A shared limitation of past studies is that the period of investigation is limited to the pregnancy itself," the authors were quoted as saying. "Hypothetically, psychosocial and material hardships in childhood and adolescence may ultimately influence pregnancy outcome."
Most of the women in the study had their first child in their 20s, and most had one, two or three children in their lifetime. About half were current or former smokers. Childhood hardships included family problems with alcohol, fathers not taking an interest in the child's schooling, financial problems and minor neglect, particularly from the father.
In their first pregnancy, 7.9 percent of women in the study gave birth to a low-birth weight baby, and 7.5 percent gave birth more than three weeks early. Overall, 5.8 percent of pregnancies resulted in a low-birth weight baby, and 6.5 percent resulted in pre-term birth. Thirty-nine percent of women had smoked at some point during their first pregnancy.
"When results were examined by timing of exposure, family structure hardships and violence/mental health hardships most strongly influenced the birth outcomes if they happened in adolescence," the authors noted. "Overall, the highest risk for both low-birth weight and pre-term birth was in those who had multiple hardships in adolescence only, but this was also a very small group."
"Our findings suggest that mothers who have experienced childhood hardships are more likely to smoke during pregnancy," the authors wrote. "They also more often give birth to low-birth weight babies who are born prematurely, but this association may be primarily due to health behaviors and associated social class."
The authors concluded, "There are critical periods for elevated risk, as well as a cumulative effect of hardships over time. Further research is needed to specify pathways between childhood adversities and reproductive health outcomes and to evaluate protective factors that could help to alleviate long-term influences of early adversity."
SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, June, 2010